The Failure of Teaching Programs

Of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 are doing a competent job; “the others could be shut down tomorrow."  So says Katherine Merseth, director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Meanwhile, my school was ranked third in the region among schools which offer a master's degree.  Since reading this excellent article years ago, I have not put much stock in college rankings of any sort, but I guess this gives me some authority to speak on the subject:

I have been really, really disappointed with graduate school.  I have learned a lot, and my professors have been pleasant, interesting, knowledgeable people.  But it hasn't felt like "school" yet.  I haven't taken one exam or felt the least amount of pressure to keep up.  There tends to be a lot of reading; some people do it all, some people ignore it, and some (like me) start out doing it all but gradually realize we're exerting ourselves unnecessarily, since there is no benefit to it.  There are papers to be written, but that's always come very easily to me (I'm an English teacher) so I haven't been challenged much in that area, either.  (The biggest challenge so far has come from the course I just finished, where the professor limited our papers to 300 or 500 words.  I can pretty much sneeze out 500 words, so it was difficult to self-censor, but it was a good experience.)  Above all, there is the sense that this is just something we're doing.  Not something important.  Not something hard.  And sorry, but I believe school should be hard.  If it's not hard, then why the heck does it matter so much?

Grades are important. After fighting my own students for years in this area, it pains me to say this, but it's true.  So when a teacher doesn't hand back work, a student is in the dark: not only about her grade, which matters for her GPA, scholarship, employer tuition reimbursement and sense of accomplishment.  She is also in the dark about her level of success in the professor's eyes, and about her projected success in the course assuming her current level of effort remains the same.  In plain English, is she doing all right, or does she need to work harder, or work differently?

Okay, I am griping in part because my last grade was a 92.9, which translates to an A-MINUS according to the professor's personal grading system (no rounding for him.)  And because the day after the final class, when we had a week to complete our final project, we still had not received grades for class participation and the midterm paper (which, together, amounted to half of our final grade.)  In fact, we didn't receive grades for either of those until we received our final grade for the course.

Honestly, the grade is not that important to me.  Even if I'd gotten a B, I still would have kept my scholarship and been reimbursed by my school for the cost of the course, and I've never heard of a graduate student discussing her GPA with a colleague or employer.  The degree itself seems to be the only thing that matters.

But how good of an example is that to a teacher?  To give no tests and very little feedback until the last day of the term?  And how much did I really learn in the casual, share-your-thoughts discussions that continued for far too long through subjects unrelated to the course?  I think I could have learned just as much by reading the material on my own.  And this seems to be par for the course in graduate school. It's just way too casual, way too easy, for something that's supposed to signify a "serious" interest in academics.

If I were paying for it myself, I would be a lot more disgruntled.  The payoff (a Master's Degree, a salary increase, greater respect in the academic world) seems awfully disproportionate to the investment.